By Matt Allibone, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Jimmy Lawson kneeled on the mat, trying to catch his breath, the words of head coach Cael Sanderson ringing in his ears.
The Penn State senior heavyweight had just come seconds away from handing the Penn State wrestling team a victory over No. 9 Virginia Tech. With the Lions clinging to a 17-15 lead, Lawson saw a 3-1 third period lead over Ty Walz get erased when the Hokie sophomore scored a takedown with less than 10 seconds remaining to send the match to overtime.
"Coach Cael said it after that whistle blew, 'If you want it, you need to go out there and do it,'" Lawson said. "You're not always gonna finish the match in regulation...regardless of what happened my mindset was still the same, to win the match."
With the outcome of the dual riding on which heavyweight could score first, Lawson wasted little time, using a single leg to bring Walz to the mat less than a minute into overtime for a 5-3 win and a 20-15 Nittany Lions victory.
The Penn State fans, no strangers to exciting wrestling, went into an uproar as the takedown occurred. As the crowd of over 6,300 cheered in delight, Lawson ran around the center of the mat in a circle, his arms raised and a broad smile on his face.
"[Haven't had a match] like that in a long time," Lawson said. "You've got the greatest fans in the world. When they're behind me and the coaches and your teammates believe in you, you can do great things."
While Lawson entered Friday with 45 career wins and NCAA Tournament appearance under his belt, never before had he faced the pressure of having the fate of the team rest squarely on his shoulders.
Throw in the fact that he was facing the sixth-ranked heavyweight in the country and it was his first time wrestling in a dual at Rec Hall in 11 months, it would have been natural for the Toms River, New Jersey, native to be feeling nervous.
But the fifth-year senior came out tough, trading shots with Walz throughout a scoreless first period. In the second, Walz got on the board with an early escape before Lawson scored an emphatic takedown at the end of the period for a 2-1 lead that set up the match's exciting conclusion.
"I knew the dual meet was on the line but I was excited just to see how he would react," Sanderson said. "Because that's a big moment and we need some points at heavyweight in these big matches. That's a big win for Jimmy, no question."
The win did more than just keep Penn State undefeated at 5-0 on the season. It also gave Lawson the opportunity to establish some confidence and momentum a year after going through the biggest challenge of his career.
The last time the heavyweight competed in Rec Hall, he endured a match that he would rather forget. On Jan. 19 of last season, he suffered a season ending left knee injury against Northwestern that cut short a promising 16-4 campaign.
Now, with his knee healed and having won his first two dual meets of the season, Lawson is looking to complete the goals he set for himself last year, becoming an All-American and winning a national title.
As far as he is concerned, a dual-clinching win over a top-10 opponent is a great place to start.
"My goal is to win a national championship and for me this is the first step," Lawson said. "It's been a while since I had a rush like that, a feeling like that. Up until this point, I was kind of doubting myself. This summer I had a chance to reflect and think about what I really wanted and that match was definitely what I needed to make my dream come to realization."
Although Lawson's win was the night's biggest highlight, junior 125-pounder Jordan Conaway and freshman 165-pounder Garett Hammond also gave huge performances.
Conaway opened the match with a 7-5 win over fifth-ranked Joey Dance, and Hammond dominated Chris Moon with a 17-2 tech fall that gave the Nittany Lions a 14-9 lead after being tied 9-9 at the half.
In a tight-knit match that went down to the wire, every point mattered for Penn State. While close meets are somewhat new for this squad, it is an experience that will benefit the Lions moving forward.
"Obviously, we had some great performances from these three (Conaway, Hammond and Lawson)," Sanderson said. "Virginia Tech came in and they were shooting right away and they came to win. That's a solid team right there."
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By Matt Allibone, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It may have been the most frustrating time of his collegiate career, yet Penn State heavyweight Jimmy Lawson couldn't help but take the glass half-full approach.
After a strong 16-4 start to his junior campaign in 2013-'14, the Tom River, New Jersey, native saw his hopes to become an All-American vanish when he sustained a season-ending left knee injury on Jan.19 against Northwestern's Mike McMullan.
Instead of helping the Nittany Lions win a national championship in March, Lawson watched from the sidelines as his teammates won their fourth consecutive title. Still, he never allowed himself to hang his head.
"The positive thing that I could think about was the fact that it wasn't my senior year," Lawson said. "The main thing was being grateful. You get an injury like that and it derails your season and your aspirations for that season but at the same time, I was grateful that I had another opportunity."
That opportunity finally came on Dec. 11 during the Nittany Lions' fourth dual meet of the season against Maryland. In his season debut, Lawson looked as strong as ever, racking up nine takedowns in a 20-8 major decision win over the Terapins' Ryan Kail.
As good as it felt for Lawson to score such a dominant victory, the highlight of the wrestler's night was simply getting back on to the mat in a dual meet after sitting out for so long.
"I've been wrestling in open tournaments but that was definitely a different experience," Lawson said. "I've been out a long time so it was definitely a good experience to get out there and wrestle."
Lawson's journey back to the mat wasn't an easy one. The heavyweight had never undergone any type of surgery before, and the months that followed contained hours of rehab.
In order to get his knee back into wrestling shape, Lawson spent the summer in the gym, working on the strength in his legs and increasing his cardio.
"Definitely squatting and all that stuff, there's a whole bunch of different knee exercises," Lawson said. Conditioning was big. Couldn't really wrestle on the mat or put pressure on it too much...so treadmill and all that stuff. Basically just focusing on improving [the left] knee individually to catch it up with the right knee."
As difficult as the process was at times, the fifth-year wrestler believes he has become a better competitor because of the adversity that he was forced to overcome.
"The knee injury set me back, but at the same time, I was training my body and training my mind to be able to deal with things like that," Lawson said. "I think it definitely made me a better wrestler and a better person. I know I can handle more now."
Now that he's back on the mat, Lawson finds himself in the same position he's been in the past three seasons - battling for the starting spot with fellow redshirt senior Jon Gingrich.
Gingrich, who competed in the NCAA Championships for Penn State last year, has been extremely impressive in his own right this season, getting off to a 3-0 start that has led to a No. 8 national ranking.
Head coach Cael Sanderson has made his feelings on the competition between the two very clear. He believes both have the potential to be an All-American and that it's just a matter of who steps up.
"Lawson's got great potential," Sanderson said. "He's an unbelievable athlete with strength and he's got great speed. If he lets it go like [against Maryland] he can do some big things and he'll be real tough to beat."
The last time Lawson competed on the national stage was his sophomore year, when he went 1-2 in his first NCAA Championships appearance.
Now, the heavyweight has his sights set on bigger goals as the Nittany Lions look to once again defend their crown.
Although the departures of national champions and Penn State legends Ed Ruth and David Taylor has opened up a void in both leadership and production for the Nittany Lions, Lawson said he doesn't feel there is any extra pressure due to anyone's graduation.
According to the senior, becoming a leader is something that every veteran should strive to do, regardless of who his teammates are. As his final season continues, Lawson is focused on creating a legacy of his own.
"Regardless of if you have Ed or Dave on the team you should always assume a leadership role," Lawson said. "That's why coach [Sanderson] gathered these great kids on this great team, to build leaders. No one wants to be a follower. You don't want to be saying, 'I'm the next Dave Taylor or Ed Ruth,' you want to be able to say, '[I'm] the next Jimmy Lawson.' We're trying to build our own legacies."
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For the past four years, watching Ed Ruth and David Taylor dominate opponents was almost a forgone conclusion at Penn State wrestling matches.
Not only did the two four-time All Americans win often, they nearly always won big. Of Taylor's 134 career wins, an astounding 125 of them (93 percent) were bonus point victories while Ruth wasn't too shabby himself, with 104 of his 136 wins (76 percent) being at least a major decision.
Now that those two titans have graduated, the Lions need to replace their production from other sources, especially with the Big Ten schedule kicking off Thursday against Maryland.
So far, all signs point to senior 174-pounder Matt Brown and junior 197-pounder Morgan McIntosh as being the ones to fill those roles.
"It's been fun but it's also been challenging," Brown said. "I'm trying to go out and score points like [Ruth and Taylor] used to. I've worked a good bit on my top game, getting some falls and near-falls so we can rack up the points."
Whatever the pair has been doing so far, it's definitely working. A month into the season, Brown is 6-0 and ranked second in the country with four bonus point victories (two majors, two pins) and McIntosh is No. 4 with a 7-0 record and has been unable to get bonus points only once, with three majors, two pins and one technical fall.
On one hand, the early success of the two wrestlers is hardly a surprise. Brown has been an All-American the past two years and scored in the bonus in 21 of his 33 wins last season while McIntosh returned last year from a redshirt season and earned his first All-American nod, racking up 13 majors and five pins in a 32-5 campaign.
At the same time, the duo's production means more to the Lions now that Ruth and Taylor, not to mention redshirted All-Americans Nico Megaludis and Zain Retherford, are out of the lineup. Entering the season, both wrestlers knew that a heavier burden would be placed on their shoulders.
"We know that we're going to have to be picking it up and scoring bonus points is something I've been working on a lot and I know Matt has too," McIntosh said. "We're both really excited about it. It feels good to finally get into the older role on the team and there's a lot of responsibility but a lot of fun too."
It didn't take long this season for the pair to show their ability to pick up clutch victories. In Penn State's first two dual meets, both wrestlers delivered the way they needed to as the Lions faced tough tests in No. 17 Lehigh and No. 16 Pittsburgh.
Against the Hawks, Penn State was holding onto a 12-6 lead after six bouts until Brown pinned Marshall Peppleman to give the Lions a commanding 18-6 advantage that led to a 24-10 win. In Pittsburgh, McIntosh came up with a huge pin of 10th ranked Nick Bonaccorsi when the Lions were hanging on to a 14-12 lead with two matches left that clinched an eventual 24-12 win.
"[Morgan] got a big pin against Pitt and that was awesome for us," Brown said. "I think he's done an awesome job and he's stepping into that role alongside me to really help the team reach our goals."
For McIntosh, stepping forward as a leader has been an important development for the entire team as well as himself.
While Penn State has always expected strong leadership from Brown, a senior and Army ROTC student, it has been welcoming to see a junior like McIntosh accept the responsibility of leading a four-time defending national championship program.
Like Brown, the Santa Ana, California, native is far from being one of the loudest or most outspoken guys on the team. Although it's common for an athlete to say they prefer to lead by example, McIntosh is a wrestler whose hard work speaks for itself.
"It's still early in the season but so far we've been really pleased with him," head coach Cael Sanderson said. "When we've needed him to step up he has. Pitt was a match that could've come down to the heavyweight and Morgan pinning the guy, for him to go out and dominate was what we need out of him and he's capable of doing that. Hopefully he'll continue to do that because he's really good."
If the Nittany Lions are going to continue to be the force in March that they have been the past four years, they are going to need Brown and McIntosh to continue to produce like the All-Americans that they are. With the seven Big Ten teams ranked in the top ten nationally including No. 6 Penn State, the Nittany Lions will have plenty of competition.
For the pair of wrestlers, simply becoming an All-American again is not enough. Both have aspirations to become national champions, a feat that is certainly attainable for them.
"It needs to happen this year," McIntosh said. "I've been trying to get to the top of the podium so I want it now more than ever and it might matter now more than ever too in terms of getting that [team] national title."
"I'm happy I get one more shot," Brown added. "That's what I'm looking to do this year, to win it all, but I'm going to enjoy it. Last year I think I had a little too much pressure I placed on myself thinking, 'I gotta do it this year.' But I'm going to look at this year as an opportunity to grow and get better."
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It was only seconds into the heavyweight match of Penn State's dual meet against Clarion on Nov. 22, and Nittany Lion senior Jon Gingrich was already behind after giving up a quick takedown to Evan Daley.
A few years ago, a rough start like that might have been it for him. Instead, the senior kept his cool, battling back with three third period takedowns to finish off a 9-4 win.
On the surface, it may have seemed like just another win in a 44-0 blowout Penn State victory. For Gingrich, however, it was an example of how far he has come and how good he can still be.
"I think he's come a long way, just mentally with his confidence," head coach Cael Sanderson said. "In Clarion, he gave up a takedown early and didn't lose his cool or get frustrated, he just kind of battled back and did what he does."
So far, Gingrich is 3-0 and ranked seventh in the country after wrestling in all three dual meets for Penn State this season. As good as he's been, it was difficult to imagine him being in this position a year ago.
That's not to say the heavyweight never showed the ability to be a productive starter, just that he faced stiff competition. After battling with Jimmy Lawson for the starting spot throughout the 2012-'13 season, Gingrich watched his teammate get in the nod in the 2013 NCAA Tournament and keep a hold on the position through the first half of last season.
With Lawson performing at a high level and racking up a 16-4 record in 2013-'14, it seemed like Gingrich would be stuck on the sidelines for the long term. However, a knee injury to Lawson thrust him into the lineup and the Wingate, Pennsylvania, native responded by qualifying for the national tournament and winning his opening round match once there.
Now a senior, Gingrich seems poised to remain focused on the task at hand in the starting lineup. Although the past two seasons have been frustrating at times, the heavyweight always felt he'd get another shot at starting.
"I never came to be on a team to be a backup, I always wanted to be a starter," Gingrich said. "You have to believe in yourself so I did [think I'd get another chance]."
It's not like the skill and talent haven't been there. One of the more in-shape heavyweights around at a chiseled 265 pounds, Gingrich entered the season with a 58-20 career record including two dual wins over top ten ranked opponents during his sophomore campaign.
When asked if he changed anything about his approach in the offseason, Gingrich said almost exactly what Sanderson did about him. The improvements were more mental than physical.
"I know I need to ride guys and also just having the right attitude, I needed some more mental toughness," Gingrich said. "In my tough matches, like Clarion the other week when I was losing, being able to come back and win those matches instead of taking a loss, stuff like that where I'm mentally tough."
While most wrestlers would probably be pretty pleased to be ranked No. 7 a year after beginning the season on the bench, the senior has been involved in too much competition over the course of his career to get complacent.
Lawson, who captured an open tournament title at Lock Haven last weekend, seems to be rounding into form after seeing his season end prematurely last year.
As good as Gingrich has been, he knows that Lawson's own accomplishments mean that the battle for the starting spot certainly isn't over.
"I think the competition is always there," Gingrich said. "We found out the past three years it's never over. Somebody needs to hit their stride and it has to happen at the right time. So it's never over but for me, I can't focus on that, I need to focus on myself and getting better.
"I think [Jimmy and I] are friends. Obviously there's a little bit of a rivalry but overall we get along great."
However the weight plays out, Gingrich is at a class where the Nittany Lions will need significant production throughout the season. With five of last year's All-Americans out of the lineup due to graduation [David Taylor, Ed Ruth and James English] and redshirts [Nico Megaludis, Zain Retherford], Penn State needs every single one of its veterans to step up.
Gingrich certainly has the talent to do that. According to his head coach, whoever ends up getting the nod as the permanent starter at the end of the Lions lineup should be a contender deep into March.
"Out of Lawson and Gingrich, they're both potential All-Americans and guys that can score points for us," Sanderson said. "Jon has been to the national tournament now, been to the conference meet...Lawson's been to the conference meet, so you know they both have the experience and they're both big, strong kids and fifth year seniors. So that's a weight class I think either one of them can score points for us in the national tournament and win in big dual meets and that's what we need so we'll see who that's going to be."
While becoming an All-American is certainly not an easy challenge, it is a task that Gingrich believes he's up to. After taking a backseat to some of his more heralded teammates the past few seasons, he is ready to emerge as one of the leaders of the Nittany Lions.
"With David and Ed gone, we need somebody to step up," Gingrich said. "Whether it's Lawson or I, we're both seniors now and we definitely need to take that role as somebody that is getting bonus points and just being there for the other guys when they need us."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - 'Tis the season for giving thanks, and the Penn
State Athletics would like to take an opportunity to say thank you to the loyal
fans on Thanksgiving.
As you sit down with family and friends to eat your traditional meal while the Lions and Cowboys host their annual Thanksgiving day home games, Penn State Athletics would like to thank you, the fans, for the unrivaled support you give every team on campus. Penn State's teams would not be the same without the greatest fans in college sports.
As a token of their appreciation, several student-athletes from teams on campus would like to say thank you and Happy Thanksgiving for the support you give them throughout the athletic season.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion wrestling team moved to 3-0 over
the weekend with road victories at Pittsburgh and Clarion. GoPSUsports.com
caught up with sophomore Jimmy Gulibon for a weekly update on the Lions.
Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Jimmy Gulibon didn't have to wait long to get thrown into the fire.
On Sunday, when the Penn State wrestling team opened its season against Lehigh, the 133-pounder found himself matched up against the No. 2-ranked wrestler in the nation at his weight, junior Mason Beckman.
During an afternoon in which the Nittany Lions raised their fourth consecutive national championship banner, Gulibon gave arguably the best performance of his career, beating the All-American with a convincing 8-3 win that highlighted the team's 24-10 victory.
"Jimmy's good," head coach Cael Sanderson said. "He knows how to wrestle, he's tough and he just did what he does. I thought falling behind early and keeping his poise ... that was good to see. It was a good start for him."
The falling behind occurred when Gulibon was taken down by Beckman just 21 seconds into the bout. Instead of allowing his deficit to increase, the sophomore ended the first period with a series of moves that turned the tide of the match.
After getting an escape, Gulibon pressured Beckman until he was able to score a takedown and put the junior on his back for two near fall points to turn a 2-1 disadvantage into a 5-2 lead at the end of one period.
From that point, Gulibon stayed in control, picking up an escape and a takedown in the second period that led to the eventually 8-3 decision.
"I felt pretty strong," Gulibon said. "I was a little hesitant towards the end, I think I could have shot a little more but I felt good."
It was a big moment for Gulibon, and not just because it was an upset win over one of the nation's best grapplers at his weight.
For starters, it was a better result for the Nittany Lion than the last time he faced Beckman. When Penn State defeated Lehigh 22-12 last season in its second match of 2013, Gulibon made his dual meet debut against the Mountain Hawks star and fell to him in a tight 7-6 match.
"We've wrestled a good bit," Gulibon said. "Last year we wrestled once. Every time it was fun. It was just fun to go out there and wrestle."
More importantly though, the victory gives Gulibon plenty of confidence moving forward with the Nittany Lions season just beginning.
Last season, the 133-pounder lost his first four dual matches before notching his first career dual victory with a dominant 15-0 tech fall over Indiana's Chris Caton.
Though Gulibon finished the year strong enough to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, he entered the 2014-'15 campaign looking to improve on last year's 18-15 mark.
Now that he has begun the season on a high note, the sky is the limit for the Latrobe, Pennsylvania native.
"Obviously [Gulibon's win] helped us with the team score but I think that was big for him," senior Matt Brown said. "I think that's going to help his confidence even more."
For Sanderson, the best part of Gulibon's win wasn't the takedowns or the back points. It was seeing the sophomore actually enjoy himself on the mat.
One of the most soft-spoken members of the team, Gulibon was hard on himself during his first year as a starter. At the same time, no one in program has ever doubted his talent or his work ethic.
"I think he just got off to a bad start last year," Sanderson said. "We were trying to get him to smile and just enjoy what he was doing. But today, he ran off the mat and and he was smiling. So that's a good sign because Jimmy knows how to wrestle and he's good enough to win a national championship but you still have to believe in yourself and enjoy what you're doing.
"I think everyone was happy for Jimmy because you want to see him win that match and give him a good start to the season. He's going to be tough to beat now."
Gulibon's victory highlighted an afternoon that had plenty of big moments, including freshman 165-pounder Garett Hammond's first ever victory (an 8-3 win over Santiago Martinez) and a dominant pin by Brown against Marshall Peppleman at 174.
Even with a collection of new faces in their lineup, the Nittany Lions find themselves in a familiar position after one match, with a 1-0 record.
"I think this is great. We had to come out and wrestle hard," Sanderson said. "[Lehigh] is obviously motivated and they want to come in and beat us like we want to beat them. They did their homework and made it a fun match."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The fifth-ranked Nittany Lion wrestling team
(1-0) opened the 2014-'15 season with a 24-10 victory over 17th-ranked Lehigh
inside a sold out Rec Hall on Sunday afternoon.
The Lions scored victories in seven of the 10 bouts, including a pair of key wins from Jimmy Gulibon (133) and Matt Brown (174). Gulibon used a five-point first period to score an 8-3 victory against No. 2 Mason Beckman from Lehigh. Brown notched a pin against Marshall Peppelman (4:01) for the team's first bonus points of the season.
The Nittany Lions return to action on Nov. 21 at Pittsburgh. Check out some post-match reaction from head coach Cael Sanderson and the Nittany Lions.
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State wrestling team enters the 2014-'15 season in both a very similar and very different situation.
On one hand, the Nittany Lions are defending national champions for the fourth straight year. At the same time, a new era has clearly begun for head coach Cael Sanderson and company.
For starters, David Taylor and Ed Ruth are no longer in the lineup, having both graduated after finishing two of the greatest careers in recent wrestling history. The Lions will also likely be without All-Americans Nico Megaludis and Zain Retherford this season, as both have been granted redshirts.
Sanderson knows he doesn't have the same team as last year. The Nittany Lions are young and will need to take the wrestling world by surprise.
"This year, it's a different type of a challenge I think," Sanderson said. "We were sort of favored the past couple of years. It was very competitive ... but we felt very confident. This year, there's a different dynamic. We've got to climb and improve and make progress."
Still, that climb is part of the fun for the Nittany Lions. After winning with same faces for so long, trying to accomplish the same goals with some new wrestlers is an exciting task.
And make no mistake, the same goals still exist. True, the Nittany Lions have a long way to go, but the winning culture that has been built is very much alive.
"Every year's different regardless and you always have change over and different obstacles and blessings," Sanderson said. "We'll see what we can do this year, we'll see how well we can coach."
Let's take a look at the 2014-'15 Nittany Lions.
New Kids on the Block
When the Nittany Lions take the mat against Lehigh for their opener on Sunday, at least four wrestlers without significant starting experience will be in the lineup.
First off, at the 141-pound weight, redshirt freshman Kade Moss will get the start but will always see competition from junior Michael Waters throughout the year.
While both could see dual action this season, they'll have the tough task of replacing Retherford, who was remarkable during a 33-3 campaign last year that included a perfect regular season and a fifth-place NCAA finish.
"Kade Moss had a solid summer," Sanderson said. "He's a guy that's going to have to get some experience and develop, but he's the kind of guy that's got the mentality that we feel he can do that."
Even more daunting will be the task of filling the voids at 165 and 184, where Taylor and Ruth dominated for four years respectively.
Right now, redshirt freshman Garett Hammond will start at 165 while sophomore Wes Phipps and freshman Matt McCutcheon will compete at 184.
Phipps already has a taste of dual experience, having gone 2-2 in four starts last year. McCutcheon on the other hand, is eager to prove he can hold his own at this level.
"Wrestling with these Penn State guys, it doesn't get much better than the competition we have in this room," McCutcheon said. "This year is a little different, because we don't have the guys we may have had last year, but I think we're going to be an excellent group from top to bottom."
Finally, redshirt freshman Cody Law is expected to start the season at 157 while senior Dylan Alton recovers from injury.
Even with the new, youthful additions, there are still some familiar faces in the Penn State lineup.
It all begins at the 174 and 197-pound weights, where All-Americans Matt Brown and Morgan McIntosh will be relied on heavily.
There's no questioning the talent and production of the duo. Brown is 62-11 over the past two seasons and was the NCAA runner-up in 2013, while McIntosh went 32-5 last year and finished seventh at nationals in March.
What the Lions really need from both is leadership, something that Brown, a redshirt senior and two-time All-American, is more than capable of providing.
"Every year have a team vote on the leaders, and it seems he's always won that award," Sanderson said. "He leads by example, now we just need him to step it up a notch and compete with the same mentality he has from the beginning."
McIntosh, while only a junior, is looking forward to taking on a more vocal role as he works towards his personal goal of being a national champion.
"I want to start taking more responsibility," McIntosh said. "I want to be one of those guys that carries the team, and leads the team and scores bonus points."
Elsewhere, the Lions also have sophomore Jimmy Gulibon returning at 133, sophomore Zack Beitz getting more action at 149, and Alton, a 2012 All-American, looking to bounce back from a shoulder injury and regain his previous form.
At the end of the lineup, the battle for the heavyweight spot remains the same as the past two seasons. Seniors Jimmy Lawson and Jon Gingrich, who each have NCAA Tournament experience, will compete for duals while fellow senior Nick Ruggear is also in the mix.
"They all have experience and all have the potential to do well," Sanderson said. "That's a must score weight class for us at the national tournament."
Back in the Saddle
And then there's Jordan Conaway, who almost feels like a new addition even though he has plenty of experience.
Two years ago, the redshirt freshman was expected to be a temporary starter at 133 and proved to be more than capable in the role, going 19-10 (11-2 in duals) and coming one win short of being named an All-American.
With Gulibon sliding into the 133-pound weight class last year, the Abbottstown, Pennsylvania, native was relegated to the sidelines for all but five duals. Now, with Megaludis redshirting, he'll have a chance to make his mark at his natural weight of 125.
"After what happened last year, starting a little bit and getting beat out, I'm ready to go again," Conaway said. "Top position and riding people and a little more defense on my feet are the things I was working on [in the offseason]."
As tough as it is to have a three-time All-American in Megaludis sit out, Sanderson is glad that Conaway will once again get chance to showcase his skills.
In a sport that exemplifies hard work and dedication, the 125-pounder somehow manages to go beyond the call of duty when it comes to effort.
"He's a kid that doesn't ever want to go home. We have to say, 'hey Jordan, you need to go home for a few days,'" Sanderson said. "He trains all summer long and he's here working because he wants to be the best."
Like the rest of his teammates, Conaway knows that people think this is a rebuilding year for the Nittany Lions. But proving everyone wrong, that's where the fun begins.
"We have a lot of guys that are stepping in for the first time and it's exciting to see how they're going to do, "Conaway said. "I think they're going to do really well."
VIDEO: Cael Sanderson Press Conference | Media Day Photo Gallery
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The four-time defending NCAA champion Nittany Lion wrestling team hosted its annual media day on Tuesday afternoon inside the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex.
Head coach Cael Sanderson addressed the gathered local and regional media members to preview the upcoming season before an open media session with the 2014-'15 wrestlers. The fifth-ranked Nittany Lions open their dual match season on Sunday against No. 17 Lehigh inside sold out Rec Hall, and Sanderson is eager to get the season started.
"I'm excited to get this going to see where we are right now," said Sanderson. "...We want to see where we are as a team (on Sunday)."
The 2014-'15 Nittany Lions will take on a much different look this season with the graduation of defending NCAA champions David Taylor (165) and Ed Ruth (184). Sanderson also confirmed on Tuesday that All-Americans Nico Megaludis (125) and Zain Retherford (141) would likely redshirt. The openings in the lineup will give a host of new Nittany Lions an opportunity to emerge in the starting lineup.
"I feel confident that the overall foundation of our program is as strong as it has ever been," Sanderson said. "Our base is getting wider and stronger."
The Nittany Lions enter the season with seven wrestlers ranked, led by No. 3 Matt Brown at 174 pounds. Junior Morgan McIntosh is ranked No. 4 at 197 pounds. Penn State will begin the season with competition throughout the lineup as Sanderson seeks to find the best combination of starters. No fewer than six spots on the probable lineup for the Lehigh match indicate competition, including a three-way battle at heavyweight.
"I think we are going to have a fun team this year," Sanderson said.
Stay tuned for much more coverage leading up to Sunday's season-opener on GoPSUsports.com.
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